Central Annum 8

We stopped to collect some orchids for the Vice-Mayor’s wife. They were white and orange like tiny jonquil flowers and hung in clusters on waxen stems. While the Vice-Mayor was up the tree, I took an interest in some of the insects. There were huge dragonflies that came darting up and remained stationary at a distance of a foot or so, accompanying me as if inquisitive. Their wings, which were without the usual sheen, moved with such rapidity that their bodies seemed to be unsupported in the air. Another large winged insect was equally happy in at least two of the elements. On alighting, its wings were folded away with great delibera¬tion into a protective case, after which, streamlined, and without impeding projections, it scampered off to forage among the fallen leaves and grassroots.
At midday we stopped to cook a meal of tiny eggs. This part of the forest was intersected by many small streams and the damp earth sprouted an endless variety of ferns, from all the small recognisable ones of Europe to some as large as palms and others that looked like bracken but were the colour of the brightest beech-leaves in autumn. After the early morning, for some reason or other, one did not expect to see game, but there were plenty of large inedible birds about, and the frequent appearance of a coq depagode which looked like jungle-fowl but had a long tail and could have only been eaten, said my friends, by a starving man, sent them several times scrambling vainly for their guns.
It was near here that we saw, in the distance, the last of the Moi villages, and decided that it would do our digestions good to walk to it. We crossed over a bridge of twisted lianas and walked perhaps half a mile along a path through rice-fields. The village was a M’nong Gar one, with the houses built on the earth itself. In the distance it was a pleasant enough sight, with its yellow, thatched roofs, the sacrificial masts with their streamers, and the children playing in the clean, open spaces. We passed the mounds of several abandoned graves and others which were still open, with miniature houses built over them containing the personal possessions of the defunct; his clothing, blankets, necklaces, jars, drum, the rice bowls that are replenished daily, and the horns of the buffalo sacrificed at the funeral.
By the time we reached the village it was deserted. There was a single woman left alone, sifting herbs outside her hut, but she paid not the slightest attention to us. Three of our party of four were armed, and we wondered whether the sudden appearance of armed men in their midst had caused the villagers to disappear like this. At the other end of the village we found more signs of life. Two men were at work making coupe- coupes in a primitive forge, while a boy worked the bellows made from two thick sections of bamboo, filled with wooden pistons. These also ignored us, but one of the men suddenly got up, with face averted, and went away towards the entrance to the village. The Vice-Mayor suspected that he might be going to organise an ambush in case we committed any hostile action. He thought that it was best to act in a natural and unconcerned way, so we picked up various half-finished coupe-coupes and put them down again, and wanted to take an interest in the woman’s occupation, but she had gone. The Judge rather overdid his non¬chalance – much to the alarm of the Rhades chauffeur – by fingering the ornaments on one of the sacrificial masts. The Rhades chauffeur who only knew a few words of French, said he could not speak the local dialect. The village he said was forbidden and we must go immediately. He could give no explanation for this opinion and when questioned drained his face of intelligence and took refuge in ‘Moi pas connaisse’.
There was something a little sinister about this village that was deserted even by the domestic animals. No sooner had we left the forge than it became silent. The imagination, too, was affected by the frame¬work supporting buffalo skulls, flanked by two Easter Island figures that had been stained by sacrificial blood. As we reached the outskirts we heard the slapping of naked feet behind us. The man who had stayed behind in the forge was running after us. He stopped a few paces away and bowing his head respectfully took his right elbow in his left palm and came forward to touch hands with each of us in turn. He was the chief, we found, and seeing that we intended no harm he had had an attack of bad conscience at his shocking breach of good manners in letting us go like that. Now, said the chauffeur, who had suddenly recovered his wits, he had come to invite us back to the village to broach a jar of alcohol with him.

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